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News you can use about traveling to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming with kids or friends.

News about Yellowstone opening weekend

Categories: News, On the Web, Science, Trip planning
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I.
Today is the first day you can drive into the park from the North or East Entrance. What’s more, those of us stuck at home can now get predictions of the daytime eruptions of Old Faithful Geyser on the NPS website.

But, if you are anything like me, you are mostly celebrating that the time for your summer trip to this wonderful park is drawing nearer. Just one thing that may give us pause as we contemplate the sights we are anticipating seeing: the crowds are likely to be amazingly large.

Here are links to a University of Montana report (2.7 MB pdf file) on 2016 crowding in that state’s two national parks and a shorter summary of the report, emphasizing Yellowstone, by Sean Reichard of YellowstoneInsider.com.

II.
If you should happen to be one of the people driving into Yellowstone this weekend, you may want to take part in tomorrow’s Earth Day Walk for Science at Old Faithful. This echoes the Washington, DC, Walk for Science. As an ever-curious non-scientist, if I lived anywhere near the park, I would certainly want to participate in that.

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This Is When You Really Need “Yellowstone Treasures”

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Mud Volcano winter

Mud Volcano area in winter. As of today Yellowstone is still covered in snow; most travel by car starts April 21, 2017.

March—while you may still be wishing for spring—is a great month to plan a summer or fall trip to Yellowstone. Here are some ways that Yellowstone Treasures can help you plan, especially if you haven’t been to the park before.

First, if your time is going to be limited to two or three days, in the book’s introduction (pages 17 and 18) there’s a list of Best Sights. An enthusiastic Amazon.com customer last June wrote: “Ms. Chapple’s rating of one star for those sights that were ‘worth taking the time for,’ or two stars for those you ‘must see’ really helped us plan our two day stay. . . .” (But—if at all possible—I highly recommend that you stay a week or even more. You won’t regret it.)

Yellowstone has become so popular—with over 4.2 million visitors last year—that almost all the in-park cabin and hotel rooms are already booked. I have to blame this mostly on the large bus tours that book blocks of rooms a year or more ahead, knowing they can fill up their tours with no trouble. This leaves us individuals and families who plan later in the year with little recourse but to book rooms in gateway places like West Yellowstone, Moran, Cody, Cooke City, and Gardiner. You can, of course, book a space in campgrounds or in the only RV camping spot, if you are so inclined.

Fortunately, the gateway towns have lots of accommodations. You will find phone numbers and email addresses for the chambers of commerce of all the gateway towns in the back of YT, as well as how to contact the park concessionnaire, Xanterra (or Yellowstone Park Lodges). Also, see our Yellowstone Links for the chamber of commerce websites in those places. Online resources such as Booking.com can be a great help with finding rooms outside the park.

A chapter near the beginning of Yellowstone Treasures tells you all about the five different entrances to the park and what you’ll see on their approach roads. The bulk of the book (pages 38 to 301) is what you’ll use before you go, while you’re there, and for reference when you return home. It’s full of detailed maps made and kept up-to-date by my incomparable mapmaker, Linton A. Brown. Here is one from page 200 of the guidebook.
Yellowstone Treasures map

Happy planning!

Photo credit: Janet Chapple, 2012.

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Where Can I See Animals in Yellowstone Park?

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Trip planning, Wildlife
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Many visitors to Yellowstone go with the primary goal of seeing wild animals. And some go only to view the wolves of Lamar Valley with spotting scopes and binoculars.

Back before the first edition of Yellowstone Treasures was published, and thinking it might be helpful to such visitors using my guidebook, I worked with my mapmaker, Linton Brown, to place animal and bird icons in likely places on our fourteen maps that show the park’s roads. The idea for this came from my model, the Haynes Guides, which my family used when I was a child. Here’s a sample of the maps in Yellowstone Treasures.

Screen Shot Map 21sm

A critical but helpful Amazon.com reviewer, Benjamin Day, wrote in 2015: “ . . . your dinner hour is the dinner hour of the animals, and low light is the best time to see the extraordinary animals that live here.” He also suggested the guidebook could include “a driving tour along the Madison, or the Lamar Valley, or Hayden Valley, near sunset, when we experienced the most amazing Elk, Bison and Grizzly shows.”

The trouble is that Yellowstone is not a zoo and the charismatic megafauna (as some tongue-in-cheek naturalists have dubbed the big animals) may roam anywhere they choose. The vast majority of park territory is not near the roads, but I had seen animals without going into the backcountry during my many visits to the park. I asked Linton to put icons in those locations. Much later, I was amused when another reviewer commented how he had enjoyed using the guidebook, and said, “she even shows where the animals are”!

No guarantees, but using our maps may give you a better than average chance of fulfilling your dream of seeing bison and elk. With luck, you may even see bears, bighorn sheep—and my favorite, the beautiful pronghorn antelope.

Screen Shot_Pronghorn

In our fifth edition we cannot add driving tours for animal “shows,” as Mr. Day suggested. That would take pages and pages, and it’s already a big book. But we can direct you to use and enjoy our maps.

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Through British Eyes—Yellowstone, Summer 2016

Categories: Thermal features, Trip planning, Trip Reports
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In this special summer when record numbers are expected in all the nation’s parks due to the centennial of the National Park Service, gas prices are down somewhat, and many foreign tourists (especially those from China) are touring the U.S., a neighbor has sent me a perceptive account of her British friends’ June trip through Yellowstone. I think reading Annie’s comments about Yellowstone may be both entertaining and helpful to people visiting in the next two or three months, so I’m passing along some excerpts from the message she recently sent my neighbor. You’ll learn both the plusses and minuses of a 2016 summer visit!

Pictures here of Aurum Spring at Upper Geyser Basin and Naiad Spring at Mammoth Hot Springs are courtesy of Suzanne Cane, taken in 2013.

From Annie and Paul’s 2016 Trip Report

Our next National Park was Yellowstone, which you can enter by driving through The Grand Tetons and using the South Entrance. We have now visited so many parks that we wondered what Yellowstone could offer that would amaze us yet again.

[The morning after settling into their campsite] From past experience we know you have to go in the parks early so we headed in about 7 am, our aim being to get to the old Faithful Geyser, so named as it erupts more reliably than any other big geysers. At present it erupts roughly every 90 minutes. It expels anywhere between 4–8 thousand gallons of boiling water and reaches a height between 1–2 hundred feet. It is not the largest geyser in the park, but you are guaranteed to see it blow. We had around 40 minutes to wait so took a walk around Geyser Hill.
SC031_Aurum G_12in.copy Aurum Geyser’s pool on Geyser Hill “lays” uniform geyser eggs

It was a truly surreal experience; the Park has built boardwalks around the geysers, and walking around there is a strong smell of sulphur, which Paul hated. I felt it was rather healthy to inhale and clear the lungs. (Ed., Venus, Mars…) The pools vary in size and colour, some small with luminous turquoises and blues. The large ones can be almost obscured with steam, but the wind will momentarily clear it to show crystal clear water bubbling away. Then there are the mud pools which go gloop, gloop, gloop and really stink. We saw some small eruptions but nothing amazing. What was surprising was the number of flowers growing quite close to the geysers’ centres.

We headed back to Old Faithful, which was now due to erupt. The photographers had gathered but there is a large viewing area all around the geyser. There were several false alarms with little spouts of water and massive eruptions of steam, then suddenly she was off—huge column of water rising into the air followed by clouds of steam. It lasted for about 3 minutes and was truly impressive.

Leaving Old Faithful we drove slowly along the Yellowstone Lake, one of the world’s largest alpine lakes, its shores are volcanic beaches. To the east and southeast of the lakes are the wild and snowcapped Absaroka Range of mountains. Truly beautiful.

We wended our way back to camp and decided to treat ourselves to dinner out. We made enquiries at the office and they recommended Bar N Ranch for excellent steaks, quiet and good service. Just what we wanted. It was 10 minutes out of town and perfect. A large wooden lodge style building, we had a lovely table in the window looking out over fields to the pine forests in the distance and their tented camp site, which actually looked a bit like an Indian war army camp all in straight lines with US flags flying! However, the food was great, fresh salad, 9oz. fillet steak cooked medium rare, (not rare as in England which is raw in America) and nice vegetables, and a mellow glass of red wine. Perfect end to the day. [This restaurant is new to me—maybe I’ll get to sample it this summer!]

Next day we went into the park a bit later, which was a big mistake, crowds of people and difficulty parking at various view points. . . . [Driving north of Beryl Spring, between Madison and Norris,] we got stuck in a massive line of cars. We thought it was road works, slowly we crawled along until finally we got to an open clearing and found cars stopping all over the road to photograph bison, really!—hardly the most enchanting of animals and how many photos do you need? That put me in a bad mood as it seems so selfish.

[Unable to find parking at Norris Geyser Basin] we headed on around to Mammoth Hot Springs. Lots of car parks but very busy and we finally got into one and set off on the boardwalk. The hot springs here have created very strange rock formations like steps with boiling water running down them, large pools of iridescent green and blue, bubbling and steaming. . . . I walked higher and higher, and at the top you have an overlook of all the spectacular terraces.
P1050633_Naiad Spring Naiad Spring, about halfway up the stairs from the Mammoth Lower Terrace parking areas, became active in 2012.

Most of the geysers are in the Southern Loop. . . We headed in on day 3 at about 7 am and reached Biscuit and Black Sand Basin well before the crowds. It is really difficult to do justice to these geysers. One favourite was Excelsior Crater; it was completely covered in steam which also enveloped us, and as we reached the far side of the pool the wind cleared, the steam momentarily revealing the brilliant colours in the water, at the edges light turquoise getting darker and then deep blue in the centre, and really clear. Quite phenomenal. Grand Prismatic Spring was quite dramatic, as from a distance you can see the steam is coloured blue, mauve, red, pink and yellow. As you get nearer the steam swirls about you and it is a really eerie feeling. Unique and, yes, awesome!!

Yellowstone is a fantastic park, we gave it 5 days but really do need longer to explore it.

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Someone on the website Quora just asked about visiting Yellowstone in October, so here’s what I came up with while surfing the National Park Service website for Yellowstone:

Facilities open in October are:
Lake Hotel and Cabins to Oct. 9
Mammoth Hotel and Cabins to Oct. 10
Old Faithful: Snow Lodge and Cabins to Oct. 16; Inn to Oct. 9; Lodge and Cabins to Oct. 5

All campgrounds close in September, except the one at Mammoth Hot Springs, which is open all year.
Almost all roads are open until November 7; Dunraven Pass and Beartooth Pass close on October 11.

Since the weather always turns cold and snowy more and more during October, visitors need to be prepared to dress warmly and could need snow tires in some areas. All thermal areas and most wildlife can be seen (bears are just beginning to think about hibernating), but visitor center hours are limited, some dining facilities are closed, and ranger programs have already ceased in September.

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Great bike-riding opportunity this month!

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Some of the plowed roads in Yellowstone are open for just a short time every year to bike riders. This great opportunity to enjoy the road from West Yellowstone to Mammoth car-free lasts until April 15th, when the other park roads gradually open to motorized vehicles. You can enjoy the quiet, the animals, and all the beauties of the northwest part of the park on two skinny wheels. Click here for all the details. Note that the road from Madison to Old Faithful is closed at this time for bear management.

The same privilege is offered by Glacier National Park in northern Montana, another paradise. But Going-to-the-Sun Highway requires really ambitious bike riders with good brakes!

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Winter season opens in Yellowstone

Categories: News, Trip planning, Winter
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[December 16: The snow cover at Old Faithful looks even better on the webcam than it did yesterday, as you can see in this late afternoon screen shot. I need to make a slight correction to yesterday’s post—]

OFG_Webcam_12_16_15

Starting today, December 15, 2015, three of Yellowstone’s entrances are open to over-snow vehicles, park officials announced. A fresh snowfall assured that the planned opening day can take effect, and snowcoaches and snowmobiles can enter through the West, South, and North Entrances. However, over-snow vehicles really take over at Mammoth Hot Springs, which is five miles from the North Entrance. Starting next Tuesday, December 22, the East Entrance will be open.

The road from the North Entrance to the Northeast Entrance is open year-round to wheeled vehicles, meaning the roads are plowed. Still, you might be wise to use all-season tires or carry chains.

If you’d like to read about my winter experiences in the park as well as about the wolf-watching trip taken by my friend Rita Reining last year and excerpts from a historical account of skiing through the park long ago, select “Winter” from this website’s “Categories” box.

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Nature cooperates with Yellowstone!

Categories: News, Trip planning, Winter
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Just this morning I’ve found for the first time this fall that the National Park Service webcam at Old Faithful is showing snow covering the Old Faithful / Upper Geyser Basin area. It is interesting to notice where the black sinter-covered ground still shows—these are areas where the subsurface is warm enough to melt snow no matter what the air temperature may be.
UGB_Webcam_11_4_15am

This is nicely coordinated with the closing of all Yellowstone roads to wheeled traffic, except for the all-season road between Gardiner and the Northeast Entrance near Silver Gate and Cooke City.

There are seven webcams of different parts of the park accessible at the NPS webcams page.

If your winter Yellowstone visit reservations are not yet made, call concessioner Xanterra at: 307-344-7311 NOW!

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Gateway business for the park

Categories: Park environs, Trip planning
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Following up on the theme of organizations that support Yellowstone National Park, started by Janet in her October 22, 2015, post. . . .

member logo

Member, Gateway Businesses for the Park

This year, Granite Peak Publications joined the Gateway Businesses for the Park, a program of the Yellowstone Park Foundation. What does this really mean?

The program was designed so the retailers in the gateway towns could post a sticker on their windows, showing their support for the projects that YPF organizes. While Granite Peak Publications does not have a brick-and-mortar presence, we still consider our books to offer everybody a gateway to the park, and we heartily support YPF’s conservation, youth, maintenance, visitor experience, and other projects. I’d like to share a short video showing some of the cultural treasures YPF works to preserve:

Here’s a tip that will help you find nearby trails, natural wonders, and picnic areas on your next visit to the park—the Yellowstone Outdoors app. Go to this article for screenshots and features, or just download it for free on your app store. This is yet another program of the Yellowstone Park Foundation.

You can learn more about the gateway towns, such as West Yellowstone and Cody, from the chambers of commerce websites we list on our Yellowstone Links page.

—Editor and publisher, Beth Chapple

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Planning for a Winter Trip to Yellowstone?

Categories: History, Through Early Yellowstone, Trip planning, Winter
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With things beginning to shut down and weather growing more wintry in the park, maybe it’s time to think about a trip there. It can be glorious to see everything covered in ice and snow, icicles glittering from the tree branches, frozen waterfalls, and everything cushioned with quiet.

In my post last October 24th, I quoted a snippet of winter description to whet your appetite for such a Yellowstone winter trip. From the same author, I’ve chosen some longer excerpts, the most eloquent descriptions of the Yellowstone winter scene I’ve ever read. T. Elwood (“Billy”) Hofer was guide to tourists, scientists, and hunters and an all-round capable outdoorsman. He was one of the first people to traverse the world’s first national park on cross-country skis (which he called snowshoes). He was there in the fierce winter of 1887.

Next year you’ll be able to read the whole amazing story in my historical anthology, Through Early Yellowstone: Adventuring by Bicycle, Covered Wagon, Foot, Horseback, and Skis, to be available by early summer to coincide with the National Park Service centennial. With twenty-first century climate warming, you may not see quite what he saw—but maybe you will.

From Hofer’s “Winter in Wonderland”

On February 16 I visited Norris Geyser Basin. A heavy fog hung over the country, with a light snow. As I approached the Basin, I was startled by the resemblances to men and animals the ice-laden trees showed, as, standing sentinel duty on each side of the road, they appeared to be watching our approach. Everything was loaded down with the steam frozen as it had drifted from the geysers. There were fantastic forms of men and women looking into the pools. Up the road were seen hogs, rabbits, mules, elephants, leopards, tigers, cats and dogs; animals of all kinds and shapes, creatures that outside of the Park nothing but a disordered mind could conjure up. All were in white, but often with dark eyes, ears and mouth, or limbs or faces, where the deep green of the pines showed through the white ice. Now and then a bough free from frost projected through the ice to form the plume of a soldier or the ears of a mule or rabbit. Again there appeared the form of a woman holding a child, bending over it as if to protect it from the wintry blasts. . . .

Wandering around among the pools in the mystery of the fog, alone in the world—like one at sea on a raft without a sail in sight—I could not see the ghostly goblin band over the hill I had left behind, but I could feel their presence; and now and again I would suddenly come in sight of more of them as I approached the timber either on my right or left. I found ice and snow everywhere in the valley. I could travel on my snowshoes on snow and ice 8 ft. deep, by the side of streams of hot water, while snow was falling on me, and white rabbits were mysteriously disappearing from sight among the snow-laden trees on my left. Flies were seen on the surface of the stream, and where the water was collected in shallow pools a water insect like a worm could be seen on the bottom moving sluggishly about. Most of the colors of the rainbow lined the bottom of the stream, though the shades were pale. I followed down the stream of the waters running from Constant, Black Growler, Ink Geyser, and the pools in the northern part of the Basin, until it was joined by the waters from the Monarch, New Crater, Vixen, Spiteful, Coral and the other beautiful pools, springs and geysers in the main basin. . . .

As I approached Coral Spring I was almost tempted to shoot at a large polar bear; he was ten feet up a dead tree near the spring; he had climbed up the tree and was looking back at the hot water as if afraid of it; I could have believed him to be alive as I first saw him through the fog and falling snow. He was only ice, however, and had grown right there where he was, as the frozen steam had added to his bulk. He was at least ten feet long; and as he grasped the tree with all his legs, one foreleg thrown over a dead limb, he was a perfect picture of a great white bear. If carved from a block of ice by an artist he could not have looked more natural. . . .

Further east I came to another steam escape, somewhat sheltered from the wind. Near this was an ice-covered tree, which had taken the form of a woman, her garments covered with the most delicate frost work lace, fringes and tassels, more delicate than the finest silk, and that a breath of wind would disturb and break; a gossamer-like bridal veil of frost hung over all, looped and gathered into folds. It was the most delicate frost work I have yet seen. With one beam of sunlight all would have disappeared. The whole fabric was so fine that parts were continually breaking off and falling on the snow below, making a train for the dress. . . .

I had now been in the Basin several hours, had seen boiling water and solid ice within less than a foot of each other, and little mounds of green and blue tinted ice, where the spray from the small geyser jets fell; and I had stepped across running streams of hot water, with my snowshoes elevated above the stream by two or three feet of snow and ice. In summer no such extremes meet; nothing so beautiful and delicate as the frostwork is then to be seen. Before I left the Basin the fog lifted; the wind began to blow, swaying the trees about, rattling their icy garments; the ghosts and goblins were going through a weird dance, bowing and swaying to each other, accompanied by the mournful music of the wind as it sighed and moaned through the pines. . . .

The clouds lifting showed Mt. Holmes in the northwest. This beautiful peak with its snow-capped summit rose from the dark masses of green timber. In places the trees were so laden with snow as to give the whole forest a white appearance; the last snow had covered every limb and bough, and one could call it a forest of silver trees. In a few places the wind had blown the snow off, revealing a dark green and giving to the landscape the appearance of shadows of passing clouds.


Call the concessionaire Xanterra at 307-344-7311 for room and snowcoach reservations—or contact one of the private concessionaires, if you’d rather drive a snowmobile. And keep your fingers crossed for snow!

See my report on a winter trip to the park.

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